McCall is a safe choice to pilot ITV through turbulence
A view from Gideon Spanier

McCall is a safe choice to pilot ITV through turbulence

Carolyn McCall, ITV's new chief executive, proved the doubters wrong at easyJet but the TV ad recession could persist into next year.

Dame Carolyn McCall will bring people skills, media trading savvy and knowledge of how regulation and international markets work to ITV.

She'll need all of them and more because the departing easyJet boss can expect turbulence when she lands at the broadcaster next January.

The early signs are that the TV advertising recession that began in the run-up to Brexit will last well into next year.

There’s already talk of a drop of at least 2% in 2018, following this year’s expected slide of 5% or more.

Broadcasting loyalists insist there’s no structural shift away from traditional TV, but there is no doubt that on-demand and online viewing are undermining ITV’s dominance, even if a million people are watching Love Island live online.

ITV Studios, the programme-making arm that is meant to reduce dependence on advertising, will also need careful scrutiny from McCall, after her predecessor Adam Crozier’s rapid, global acquisition spree.

The view from ITV is that its diversification strategy is working and it has financial strength to keep investing.

McCall has a lot going for her, and ITV’s share price rose more than 2% on news of her appointment this morning.

She proved the doubters wrong at easyJet, dramatically improving customer service and attracting business customers, and trebled the share price – all the while, dealing with a restive, minority shareholder, Sir Stelios, the founder.

"McCall leaves a strong legacy," analysts at Panmure Gordon, the City broker, said today.

But in the wake of Brexit, it is not surprising if the prospect of negotiating with dozens of European airports looked unappealing.

So a return to media is her next destination.

A regular at ad industry events such as Wacl, of which she was president, and Global Radio's Summertime and Jingle Bell Balls, McCall has stayed close to the media scene, despite spending the last seven years in an airline hangar in Luton.

She showed her people skills in her farewell message to easyJet staff, released via the stock market this morning.

"I will always miss easyJet and most of all I will miss easyJet's people whose Orange Spirit helps them do their best to make travel easy and affordable for their customers every day," she said.

McCall previously spent the best part of 25 years at The Guardian, rising to group chief executive, so practically everyone in media over 30 knows her.

She has some experience of broadcasting through GMG Radio and will have known Sir Peter Bazalgette, now the ITV chairman, from those days.

He sold his TV company, Bazal, to Guardian Media Group in the 1990s and worked there when McCall was in newspaper ad sales.

Her tenure at the top of GMG from 2006 to 2010 was mixed – even without having to cope with a brutal downturn in 2008-9.

The all-powerful editor, Alan Rusbridger, insisted on spending heavily to expand The Guardian's free website and losses ballooned.

His decision not to countenance a paywall hangs over The Guardian's finances to this day.

Her management of the rest of the GMG portfolio saw her begin a strategy of selling off non-core assets, notably a 49.9% stake in Auto Trader and the regional papers, including the Manchester Evening News.

Critics, including some in the City, said such moves were the equivalent of selling off the family silver while letting GMG defer tough decisions about over-spending in editorial.

The 2008 purchase of a minority stake in Emap International, just as the media bubble was bursting, also suffered from bad timing.

However, McCall put all that behind her at easyJet, where she has made her reputation as Britain’s foremost businesswoman of her generation.

By agreeing to move to Britain's biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster in the throes of digital disruption, no-one can accuse her of taking the easy option.

But the red carpet at an ITV celebrity screening will be a lot more glamorous to walk down than the easyJet hangar in Luton.

Gideon Spanier is Campaign's head of media